Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Biggest Problem of All

In a comment to the first article here, Vincent refers to ‘the thing [I] clearly deplore.’

I am not certain that he means exactly this, but I should state clearly at the start that the thing I most deplore about education is the fact that it is compulsory. I shall return to this again and again, as it is probably the most important point of them all, and there are many arguments heard in favour of compulsion, which I shall need to address.

My antipathy to compulsory education is not a political position, it is not based on ideology or some unpleasant experience of my own, but on many years of observation of what compelling all children into schools has meant in practice.

Forcing children to attend schools, rather than offering education and encouraging its use, has led to a vast waste of resources on people who cannot or will not benefit from it, to the direct detriment of those whom the resources, in time, competence, equipment and so, could benefit, but do not. Compulsion not only wastes a great deal of everyone’s time, it also creates an atmosphere which is not conducive to learning and advancement, it obscures the real reasons for seeking and providing education, and it discourages able teachers from entering the profession.

All of this is very bad indeed for the people who are trying to improve their chances in the world, for those who enjoy learning for the sake of it, and for the rest of us who have to pay for it, and eventually to try to find them employment.


Vincent said...

I certainly don't deplore this radical idea, but it needs clarification. Here in England and perhaps in all of Europe, we are able to compare our public systems of education with those in poorer continents such as Africa, where school attendance is one of the great privileges given to some but not all, and therefore embraced eagerly, whatever may be the primitive conditions in which schooling takes place. So for that simplistic reason alone, I agree with you.

If it is not compulsory it is optional. But who do you envisage having the option? Up to a certain age it would be the parents who decide. If the parents want the child to go to school, it remains compulsory for the child.

If it is the child who is left free to decide then the parent is over-ridden. The parent expecting the child to go to school discovers the child has played truant and gets no support from the authorities.

Imagine what influences the children or indeed the parents may fall under to keep children away from school.

My questions are doubtless premature, but I table them as seemingly requiring answers at some point.

Vincent said...

And another thing, again for future consideration, is what the children will do who don't attend school. Many parents, we might call them inadequate, rely on school to provide something that they cannot; to feed them even, certainly to keep them off the street, to provide all kinds of basic education you'd normally expect to derive from a good family.

In Africa the need is less where it is understood that a child belongs to the village and not just its family. That is less common in Europe.

I had inadequate parents and am therefore grateful for boarding school. But I learned a great deal from other episodes in my life when I was away from home: a period when my mother dumped me with a pseudo-aunt in Holland (aged 5), several months seriously ill in hospital where quarantine prevented any visitors (aged 6-7). These were times of great learning.

Two of my grandchildren have never been to school, due to their parents' preference for "home education" which is conducted in conjunction with a group of like-minded parents. One of my objections to this was that the children would be too much under the influence of their anarchist-hippy-type parents, and not open to the wider world. I've withdrawn my objections in fact because the kids seem fine, but in broader terms than my own family, these issues remain.

The Hickory Wind said...

The points you raise are all good ones, and they will all be dealt with at some point or points in the chaotic, hit-and-run thesis which this blog is very likely to become, but I'll give some idea of the lines I'm thinking on.

What you ask in your second comment is more easily answered. Although it's true that in the absence of compulsion a problem would exist for a lot of familes, and probably social problems as well, but it isn't the purpose of education to solve that problem. It would need to be addressed independently. Some of the problems of education arise precisely because it is seen more as a way to keep the children off the streets and out of their parents' way, than a means of giving them opportunities in life.

On the subject of who decides if a child should or should not go to school if the law doesn't say so, it would be a matter for the parents, not the child, and the law would back them up if the child rebelled (to the extent that it does in other cases).

I sometimes use a very imperfect analogy between socialized education and socialized medicine. Medical care is offered to everyone, it is not forced upon them. Except in certain unusual cases the medical services cannot act without consent, nor do they seek out people who they think should be treated. They offer their services to people who need them, and decisions about children's health are made by their parents, not by the children.

The obvious distinction between healthcare and education is that someone who is ill or injured has a very strong motivation to seek the help that is available. This is true, but the fact that the motivation of parents to use the education offered to their children, and of older children themselves, is not at least of the same order of magnitude, is a consequence of the attitude the entire system takes to its charges. This is, in turn, largely a consequence of compulsion.

Education is, as you say, and as I say very regularly, as privilege, so important a privilege that we offer it to everyone, but in practice we behave as though it were a punishment for being young. Children respond to the environment created around them, and perceive it that way. They don't know that they are privileged to have this opportunity.

Vincent said...

I am cheered by your reply. It turns out that we see things on the same lines.

We would both approve of a school which takes as its premise that all pupils are there because they want to be, or come from a household where their parents are committed to the educational process.

In order for this to happen there will have to be a functioning apparatus to handle social and family problems. This comes down, I suggest, to a Western, urban version of "the child belongs to the village." In some way. Must go now.